Tag Archives: books

Book Review – Elements of Murder

The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison

John Emsley

Hardcover: 436 pages

Publisher: OUP Oxford; 1st Edition edition (28 April 2005)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0641823894

ISBN-13: 978-0641823893

It has everything I want from a book – science, history and murder. It’s not a book everyone would enjoy but to geeks like me it’s fascinating to know that a broken thermometer played a part in the development of photography. I’m also intrigued to find that Pope Alexander VI  was poisoned in 1503 after dining with his son (well, they were Borgias), and that “perpetual pills” were made from antimony. When swallowed, they would pass through the gut, and irritate the gut into clearing itself out. They would then be retrieved, washed and used again. I’m not surprised their use has died out. I still shudder at the thought of what happened when I swallowed one of my gold crowns.

If you prefer environmentalism to murder you can read it as a book on the damage done to humans, fish and the atmosphere, with examples from history and from modern times.

If science is your thing, there is plenty available, possibly too much.

The book covers the poisons Mercury, Arsenic, Antimony, Lead, Thallium and “Other poisonous elements”. There are other poisons available, but these are the ones in the book – the clue is in the word “element” in the title. If you want a book on poisons in general you need a different book. If, for instance, you were interested in general poisons  (and I am making no judgement here) you may be better with a book on plants.

It’s not an easy read because the detail is quite dense, and you have to concentrate, but it is interesting and informative.

I won’t lie, it’s patchy, and there are slow bits because some of the poisoning cases are well known (like Napoleon’s death by wallpaper) and because the science sometimes goes on a bit, but I like the history and there are hundreds of items of trivia to be gleaned from a reading of the book. I’m not going to criticise a book just because of my inability to process science writing.

It’s going back on the shelf for now, but after leafing through it for examples of trivia, I’ll be reading it again soon.

 

 

 

Biblioperigrination – new word for an old problem

I learned a valuable lesson about book reviews recently. That lesson is do not promise reviews on books you haven’t read yet. The photograph shows The Normans and their Myth, which is quite interesting but not riveting, so I haven’t actually finished it.

Same goes for taking care of books you’ve promised reviews on, as I’ve mislaid 50 ways to make you Home and Garden Greener. It’s easily done when you have piles of books everywhere. I suppose I could review it from memory, but I can’t really remember it that well – I’ve read so many books on this subject.

Reviewing a book from memory, particularly with my memory, could be a dangerous occupation.

The problem is that books seem to have a secret life of their own and are much more mobile than you think. I’m going to see if there is a Japanese word for that. If decided on the word for this phenomenon – biblioperigrination. According to Google there is no mention of this, so I claim to have invented the word. As it’s now going to be in my title and I’m putting in a bid to have it recorded as the first known use. I may write to Susie Dent about it.

I’m going to do The Elements of Murder next. I’ve read it, and I can see it from here, so there shouldn’t be any problems with that. I just need to make sure I’m reading fast enough to keep up with myself.

With that in mind, I won’t tell you what’s next, though I will tell you I’ve just had V. S. Naipaul’s  A Turn in he South delivered. It has been recommended by arlingwoman and I’m looking forward to reading it.

We’re going out now as I’m going to treat Julia to a cream tea. We breakfasted late on scrambled eggs, mushrooms and brown toast, so the cream tea will be a late lunch, which makes me feel better about eating it whilst on a diet. There’s no eating between meals, but if we have it as a meal it’s not a problem.

 

Book Review – Deep South

Deep South

Paul Theroux

Paperback: 441 pages

Publisher: Penguin (3 Mar. 2016)

ISBN-10: 0241969352

ISBN-13: 978-0241969359

I saw this in the shop and thought this would be a good chance to learn something about the southern states of the USA. After reading quite a few crime novels based in the South I thought I ought to learn something about it.

I was expecting poverty, religion and racism and that’s what I got.

The religion, and its role in society was quite exotic for someone in the UK. For most of us, it doesn’t play a big part in our lives, and I’ve certainly never had my hair cut by a man who has his own church. I was hoping that he would visit a church that used snakes, but he didn’t. He didn’t eat much barbecue either, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

The poverty, on the other hand, is discussed in terms that seem fairly universal. Loss of traditional industry, lack of education, poor housing, production moved overseas – all of it could be true of many places.

It’s more interesting when he discusses the growing trend for African-American families to move into farming, and the various routes they have taken. Apart from that you can’t really tell you are in the South. Conversations in development agencies, for instance, seem to run along the same lines whether you are in the UK or the USA.

There was plenty on racism, including discussion of the Civil Rights movement and the current situation, which doesn’t seem to have moved on as much as you would have thought. I’m not going to develop this discussion because there is too much scope for putting my foot in it.  Just let’s say that it gave me food for thought.

To sum up, there’s a lot to this book, but while it gave me much to think about, it also seemed to leave a lot undone. It seems too long, partly due to digressions about previous travels and Southern literature, and partly due to repetition of things like Gun Shows, but in some areas it just didn’t go deep enough.

Not a bad book, but an unsatisfactory one. Would I recommend it? Probably not.

Sorry to be so negative for two reviews in a row, that’s just how it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tsundoku revisited

I’ve written about tsundoku before – the habit of piling up unread books. It was brought into painful focus earlier today when I opened up  a box of books that has been undisturbed for several years. For “several” you could probably substitute “ten” judging by the publication dates.

When I read The Elements of Murder  last month I was surprised at my familiarity with poisons and notable poisoning cases. Not only surprised, but quietly impressed with the breadth of my knowledge.

So when I found a copy of the paperback edition in the box today it was a bit of a downer. Not only is my knowledge based on reading the book ten years previously, but my memory is in fact so bad I didn’t remember buying the book twice.

It’s also a reminder that when I pictured the seven books in the photograph I was intending to review them swiftly. I’ve actually managed two and started two more. I haven’t even finished reading one of them. But I have bought more, and read several of them.

Ah well.

I suppose this officially the start of old age…

 

Beeston, Books and a Butterfly

I fell asleep in the car this morning. Fortunately I was in a car park. Julia. meanwhile, was at a meeting in the building attached to the car park. She was having similar trouble in keeping awake.

While she was being trained (I wish them luck – I’ve not managed to train her despite many years of effort), I went for a walk round Beeston. It’s a pleasant place, even in the rain, with a statue of a bee man, a cheap bookshop, an Oxfam bookshop and quite a few charity shops. The Sue Ryder shop has re-branded itself as a vintage and retro shop. That seems to mean it has a lot of old brown furniture.

I’ve been watching Money for Nothing on TV. The presenter goes round tips grabbing people as they throw things out and commissioning various artist/designers to make things from them. She pays them between £200 and £500 to convert the tat then sells it to specialist shops (usually making £50 – £200 profit). Goodness knows what the shops charge.

Apart from being envious of people who charge that sort of money with a straight face, I’m telling you this because the programme seems to take a lot of unsalable brown furniture, paint it and get big money for it. If you need any of it to start making a fortune try the Sue Ryder shop in Beeston.

Call me cynical if you like, but it all strikes me as a modern version of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Everybody in the trade is happy slapping paint about and charging £500 for a £15 piece of furniture. But just let one small child ask why people don’t just paint their own…

Anyway, enough about con tricks perpetrated on people with more money than sense, let’s talk about butterflies.

When we arrived home Julia had a good look at the plants in the front garden. There, sheltering from the wind, was a Small Copper. They are common and widespread according to the books but I’ve never seen that many of them and this is the first I’ve seen in our garden. It’s also the only one I’ve ever photographed, as the previous one was pictured by Julia as it rested on my hand.

Apparently the three white spots on the lower wings are an aberration, as listed on the website. Proper naturalists are interested in things like that.

As for the books I mentioned earlier, I limited myself to seven. This includes a book of historical craft projects and a cheap book about butterflies. These are both for Julia, so I don’t feel so bad about the others, which will be revealed in due course.

 

 

Falling behind…

I’m days behind with the washing up, weeks behind with the blog (both reading and writing) and months behind with my reading. If you want to complete the sequence I’m also years behind with the housework (though Quentin Crisp did say” There is no need to do any housework at all. After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.”), a generation behind in my thinking, and a lifetime behind with diet, dreams and ambitions.

The trouble is that you can’t wash up before you’ve dirtied the plates, can’t read until you’ve bought the books and can’t clean until the house is dirty.

I admit that you can write posts ahead of time, but I find it’s a struggle. Currently I have a few part-completed posts but nothing ready to go. Once I started researching The Kings We Never Had I found myself doing too much research and not enough writing.

The idea behind the book reviews was to give me something to do in advance, but it hasn’t worked like that. I’m behind with book reviews too. Badly behind, because when I photographed the last lot I optimistically included some books I haven’t finished. In truth, I hadn’t started them all when I took the picture.

The book on the Normans seems like easy reading but you will be waiting a while for the review of Some Desperate Glory as it’s heavy going. As there are plenty of copies available for a penny plus p&p, it’s clear that supply exceeds demand.

Poppies

Poppies

 

I’m already working on some more books, one of which will be Some Desperate Glory. Confusing isn’t it? I really can’t thing why Max Egremont used the title for his poetry book when there was already a perfectly good book of memoirs using it. I’ll cover that more fully when I write the review.

Meanwhile it’s time for tea –  belly pork with vegetables roasted with turmeric and cumin. It’s an old favourite and it’s easy.

 

 

Poor Quality Post – You Have Been Warned

Get Julia to work, read WordPress, answer comments, do laundry, go to park, do shopping, go home, eat lunch. Nap, eat fruit, read, pick Julia up from work. eat ice cream.

Then eat, watch TV, read, answer more comments, make more comments, watch poor quality films, write quick blog post as I notice it’s near midnight.

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Books for Review

This is that post.

The photos are my laundry drying. Yes, it’s wasteful but at the moment I can’t manage the steps down to the garden (we live on a hill)/ You may recognise one of the shirts from my profile photo. The books will all be reviewed soon and the fountains mark my return to the park.

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Arnot Hill Park